NEW YORK (AP) — If you’re a top 10 team and you have plans on visiting New York, avoid Madison Square Garden.
Dwight Hardy scored a career-high 33 points and St. John’s took command in the second half in an 89-72 victory over No. 10 Connecticut on Thursday night, the Red Storm’s fourth win over a top-13 team this season at the Garden.
Hardy, who was 10 of 17 from the field and 5 of 8 from 3-point range, was coming off a 32-point effort in a loss to UCLA on Saturday where he was 13 of 24 overall and 3 of 6 on 3s.
“I was in a zone,” he said using the shooter’s term for being hot, “and when I’m in a zone, I kind of black out.”
It was UConn that seemed to black out, especially during the second half when the Red Storm outscored the Huskies 54-41.
D.J. Kennedy matched his season high with 20 points and had 11 rebounds for St. John’s (14-9, 6-5 Big East), which added Connecticut to a list that includes then-No. 13 Georgetown, then-No. 9 Notre Dame and then-No. 3 Duke, all of whom are currently in the top 10. The Red Storm are 6-1 at the Garden, their second home court.
Hardy ranked this game even above the 93-78 rout of Duke in front of a sellout crowd.
“This game was bigger because they were a Big East team,” he said. “You know the Big East is tight and we moved up the ladder. This game was more because of moving up in the standings. Beating Duke helped our resume more.”
Hardy came out of the game in the second half and Lavin told him not to get comfortable.
“Coach said, ‘You’re scorching the nets. You’re going to take a quick blow and get right back out there,”‘ Hardy said.
The Huskies (18-4, 6-5) had trouble all game with St. John’s matchup zone, which trapped ballhandlers repeatedly. They rarely attacked the basket, passing the ball around the perimeter and usually settling for a rushed jumper.
“We have faced 160 straight minutes of matchup zone,” Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said of a four-game stretch that has seen the Huskies go 2-2. “We should have an idea by now.”
“I don’t know,” Connecticut’s Kemba Walker said when asked why the Huskies have trouble with the matchup zone. “That’s why we’re struggling against it. I’m sure we’ll see a lot more of it.”
This was the second straight blowout of the Huskies by St. John’s. The Red Storm beat the Huskies 73-51 in the first round of last year’s conference tournament. Connecticut won the previous nine meetings.
“There are those few moments, they don’t happen very often, when you are able — even when you’re a coach — to step back and take a deep breath and kind of enjoy as a fan what transpired,” Lavin said.
The Red Storm closed the first half with two 3-pointers by Hardy and Malik Boothe, the second a 35-footer banker from straight on as the buzzer sounded for a 35-31 lead.
Calhoun walked on to the court complaining that Boothe walked before he shot.
“I know you can’t take four steps,” Calhoun said after the game.
He was called for a technical foul — his first of the season — so St. John’s started the second half with two free throws by Hardy, and Kennedy scored on a layup on the ensuing possession.
Dwayne Polee II and Kennedy scored around four missed shots by the Huskies and the Red Storm had a 43-31 lead 2 minutes into the half.
“This game was over early in the second half,” Calhoun said. “We haven’t had that happen against some very good teams. We didn’t give any resistance for the first time in 23 games. It was a very disappointing night for us.”
Things got worse for the Huskies, who kept missing shots and didn’t get back quick enough on defense as the lead grew to 24 points, 69-45, on Hardy’s third 3-pointer in a 5-minute span — and he also had two traditional three-point plays in the run. The 89 points were the most allowed this season by Connecticut.
“I think our pressure over the course of the game had a cumulative effect in terms of wearing UConn down,” Lavin said, “so they weren’t as fresh in terms of their shots and it allowed us to go on runs and eventually have the knockout punch.”
Roscoe Smith had 16 points to lead Connecticut, which shot 36.9 percent from the field (24 of 65) but more importantly allowed the Red Storm to shoot 48.4 percent (30 of 62), well above the conference-leading 38.3 it entered the game with.
Walker, second in the league in scoring at 23.2 points per game, had 15 points and was 4 of 16 from the field, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range. Freshman Jeremy Lamb, who averaged 17.1 points on 56.8 percent shooting over the Huskies’ last six games, finished with 13 and was 5 of 16 from the field, including 2 of 7 on 3s.
The Huskies continued to have troubles at the free throw line, especially Walker. He is 6 of 15 from the line in his last three games and is still shooting 74 percent for the season. Connecticut is 28 of 50 in that same span.
“I don’t know why I’m struggling at the foul line,” Walker said. “Maybe I’m thinking too much.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)